Author Archives: mike.merchant

Avoid bringing bed bugs home

The fear of picking up bed bugs in a hotel room shouldn’t keep you from that next great adventure you’ve been planning.  Yes, frequent travelers do have a good chance of eventually encountering bed bugs; but a few simple steps can dramatically reduce your risk of bringing these pesky insects home. To learn more, check out this new video, produced by my colleague Dr. Pat Porter, that explains what you can do to avoid the curse of the bed bug.  And enjoy that next vacation to New York… Read More →

Bug bombs bomb

For many years the go-to solution for DIY pest control was the bug bomb.  Got fleas? Get yourself a bug bomb.  Cockroaches in the kitchen?  Bug bomb! Most recently, it’s bed bugs.  See a bed bug? Reach for the bug bomb. But do bug bombs (also known as total release aerosols) really work?  Not very well according to a recent paper was published last month in the Open Access journal BMC Public Health.  Researchers at North Carolina State University found that not only did bug bombs under-perform (not even… Read More →

Good news about monarchs, but…

  News headlines often bear a second look.  And this week’s “good news” about monarch butterflies is no exception.  News sources this week are reporting that monarch butterfly colonies covered almost 15 acres of Mexican mountainside in 2019, a 144% increase from last winter. Colony sizes are based on estimates of the total acreage of trees covered with monarchs in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico–the main overwintering site for eastern monarch butterflies. Acreage estimates provide an index as to how many butterflies survived the previous year’s… Read More →

Giving Monarchs a hand

Where have all the butterflies gone?  If you think there are fewer butterflies, and just plain bugs, on your windshield compared to a few years back, you’re probably right. Recent studies point to alarming declines in both insect and butterfly populations. Most scientists think that the primary causes for these declines are the many changes we humans are making to our environment.  As we replace plant-diverse rural landscapes with simplified urban and suburban streets and lawns, we reduce habitat abundance and food supply for butterflies, among other insects. … Read More →

Good Sams discover exotic borer in Tarrant County

Last summer Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist, Sam Kieschnick, was going through pictures on iNaturalist and saw a picture of an insect taken by someone he knew. It was a shot of a shiny green beetle that 10-year-old nature enthusiast, Sam Hunt, had snapped in his own driveway near Eagle Mountain Lake in west Tarrant County. Something about the picture bothered biologist Sam, so he forwarded it to colleagues who were experts in a group of insects called buprestid beetles. The expert consensus seemed to be that 10-year-old… Read More →

Monarchs passing through now…don’t miss them

In case you haven’t seen your first monarch butterfly of the fall migration, you should start looking now.  Mid-October is peak monarch observation month in Texas. So what is fall migration and why all the fuss about monarch butterflies? Monarchs are one of relatively few insects that have true migration.  And one of the few migrant animals who instinctively travel thousands of miles to an overwintering site they have never seen before. The monarch migration starts each spring with old butterfly adults that have overwintered on a dozen… Read More →

Miller moths

If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, or any other place that has had a recent outbreak of fall armyworm caterpillars, you may have noticed an increase in fast-flying, grey-brown moths. I started noticing these last week, and they appear to be growing in numbers today. If you drive early in the morning, or in the evening, you might even catch these moths in your car headlights. It’s all part of a circle of life: moths lay eggs, which turn into caterpillars, which pupate (think of a… Read More →

The surprising fall armyworm

I’ve noticed something lately. People are consistently amazed when nature intrudes on their lives, as if it’s a great exception to some law that states “nothing unusual should ever happen to me.” Whether it’s hurricanes or a snake in the house, or something as mundane as a caterpillar outbreak, the usual reaction is astonishment.  That seems to be the common thread among callers this week with regard to the latest fall armyworm outbreak. I say “latest,” because fall armyworms are nothing new. According to Dr. Allen Knutson, extension agricultural… Read More →

How to treat your crapemyrtle for bark scale

YouTube is both a tremendous waste of time and also one of the best things to happen to DIYers in, like,… forever.  I find myself checking it constantly for instructions on how to do everything, from troubleshooting my computer to making repairs on my car.  So why not a video on how to control crapemyrtle bark scale? What is crapemyrtle bark scale (CMBS)? It’s a small sap-feeding insect that lives on the bark of certain plants, especially crapemyrtle. Thanks to its sugary excrement, it turns crapemyrtles with beautiful… Read More →

Living with squash vine borer

A gardener recently asked me what she could do about squash vine borer. She then proceeded to list all the recommended treatments she had tried already, ranging from shooting the vines up (literally, with a hypodermic syringe full of Bt), to putting out yellow bowls to catch adult moths, to watching a gazillion videos on YouTube, to praying to the bird gods to eat the little buggers. To answer her question I spent time reviewing a new and old publications, including a new review of the literature on… Read More →